FIKILE MBALULA’S furious outburst, when he described Bafana Bafana as “A BUNCH OF LOSERS,” in the wake of his country’s disastrous 2014 CHAN campaign, a first round humiliation handed in their backyard, was trending among dejected Warriors’ fans this week.
This follows the Warriors’ meltdown in Rwanda, where their 2016 CHAN campaign was blown away after just 180 minutes, as Callisto Pasuwa and his troops wilted in the heat of the Rwandan countryside, their dreams dumped in Lake Kivu, that freshwater lake adjacent to their Rubavu base.
Amid the public introspection, and explosion of fury, as the country plunged into a post-mortem season whose brutality would carry no prisoners, with some even calling for the sacking of Pasuwa and his coaching staff, the national team was even labelled “WARRIORS OF SHAME.”
That the Warriors became the first group of footballers to represent this country at the CHAN finals, who ended with a wooden spoon, after finishing bottom of their group, with just a point and a goal to their credit, was unacceptable to a lot of the national team’s fans.
That one of the losses in Rwanda was a derby defeat against Zambia, one of the two nations, the other one being South Africa, whom the Warriors’ fans hurt losing to, no matter the occasion, only amplified the pain and increased the volume of criticism that was directed towards the team and their coaches.
And, amid all that volcanic fury, the fans inundated social media sites, radio talk shows and went on national television, borrowing a leaf from Mbalula’s book of shaming footballers who would have let down their nation, by dubbing the Warriors who were in Rwanda as “A BUNCH OF LOSERS.”
Of course, one could understand why the fans turned against their men.
After all, this is a country that — just two years ago — produced a team that reached the semi-finals of the 2014 CHAN finals, holding this nation spellbound with their fairy-tale adventure, only for the dream to be shattered by a cruel penalty shootout semi-final loss to the eventual champions Libya.
From the heights of fighting for a bronze medal, in the third-place play-off against Nigeria, which we lost 0-1 to a very, very late goal, to the depths of being knocked out just after two group matches in Rwanda, was a journey back into the darkness and, to a lot of the Warriors’ fans, unacceptable.
Finishing bottom of our group, with just a point and a goal, represented failure when compared to the success of a second-place group finish in South Africa two years ago, a stylish quarter-final win over Mali, a hearty show in the semi-finals and, eventually, coming out of those battles as the fourth best team.
Turning ourselves into specialists in a continental exhibition of how not to score goals in a football match, with a strike-force so blunt it became a mockery of the virtues of our proud nickname, conceding in every game, including a painful last-gasp goal against Uganda when a face-saving, pride-restoring win appeared to have been sealed, was a betrayal of the loyalty of the fans who believed in them.
Even stand-up comedians joined in the condemnation exercise, asking the players — especially Ronald Chitiyo and Rodreck Mutuma — to return home to repair potholes along Harare’s Chiremba Road, rather than stay in Rwandan hotels shaming a nation that expected more from them.
The comedian’s mood was certainly not helped, in any way, by the self-styled Prince’s shocking double miss in the final game against Uganda — probably the miss of the tournament — when he first, somehow, failed to connect a teasing cross from Edmore Chrambadare before shockingly bundling the ball off target, from the closest of ranges, when it was easier to score than miss.
Some of Pasuwa’s biggest critics found the ammunition to question his credentials, saying that while he was a good coach on the domestic front, he was always found wanting when it came to the big stage on the continent and, having failed with Dynamos to make any meaningful impression in the Champions League, it was foolish for us to believe that he could do better in a bigger and tougher assignment with the national team.
Suddenly Omega Sibanda, the ZIFA vice-president wrongly accused of having fired Pasuwa during the stand-off between the coach and the Association, was not only receiving a lot of friendship requests from many people who believed he was right to axe the gaffer when, in reality, he wasn’t the one who wielded the axe back then.
Even some of those who had insulted him, having been led to believe that he was the man who had fired Pasuwa when the reality was that it wasn’t his decision, were now offering their apologies because, after the events in Rwanda, they felt he was a man blessed with foresight, who saw things long before others had done so.
Others pointed their guns at the ZIFA Board, pointing to the Association’s failure to arrange even one preparatory match for the coach as a sign of their incompetence, and those who have always believed that Philip Chiyangwa will drag Zimbabwe football into the darkness, either because they don’t like his showmanship or his political links, suggested this was just the beginning of the end.
“Bhora kuna Fidza, CHAN trophy kune dzimwe nyika,” became a popular trending phrase among those who still question whether the Harare businessman is the right man to be given the mandate to be the leader of the country’s football family.
Others even decided to be innovative and played around with the warning that we see on alcohol packaging, coming up with a warning that says “Warriors may be hazardous to your health if supported to excess, the operation of machinery or driving after watching the Warriors playing is not advisable, supporting Warriors is not advisable to those under the age of 60, munofira mahara.”
Some even wondered whether Pasuwa will be given the chance to get the brand new vehicle that ZIFA partner, Wicknell Chivayo, bought for him.
BUT AREN’t WE JUDGING THE WARRIORS HARSHLY?
Pasuwa, on his return home on Thursday, questioned some of the criticism that his team, in general, and himself, in particular, have been receiving after their CHAN adventure?
Maybe, when you get to think about it, he has a point.
Should we mock our guys simply because they finished bottom of their group with just a point and a goal to show for all their troubles?
Are we right to demand that, simply because another group of Warriors made it into the CHAN semi-finals in 2014, we now have a divine right to always, at least, make the last four of this tournament?
If so, what should the people of Libya do with their team, the one that knocked us out of the semi-finals two years ago, on their way to winning the tournament, but then FAILED to even qualify for Rwanda after finishing bottom of a three-team North African qualifying group with only one win from their four matches?
The Mediterranean Knights, who briefly united their divided nation when they beat Ghana to win the 2014 CHAN final, won only one game, a 1-0 victory over Tunisia, and lost three matches — 0-3 against Morocco, 0-4 against the Moroccans and 0-1 against the Tunisians — scoring one goal and conceding eight as they finished rock bottom in that three-team qualifying group for Rwanda 2016.
What about Ghana’s Black Stars, runners-up in the last CHAN finals in South Africa, where we came fourth, and runners-up again in the inaugural tournament in Cote d’Ivoire in 2009?
Like the Libyans, the Ghanaians FAILED to even make it to Rwanda, losing a first round qualifying battle against Cote d’Ivoire.
And what about the Nigerians, who beat us in that third-place play-off in South Africa, who only flattered to deceive as they — just like our Warriors — also FAILED to make it out of the first round in Rwanda after finishing third in their group?
Or what about Angola, runners-up at the 2011 CHAN finals, who also FAILED to make it past the first round in Rwanda or, worse still, Sudan, who finished in third place in 2011, but FAILED to even qualify for the Rwanda adventure?
What about the South Africans, whose Premiership attracts some of our best players, is loaded with riches that make it one of the top 10 richest leagues in the world, whose players like Teko Modise and Siphiwe Tshabalala now earn between R300 000 and R450 000 a month, whose club owners like Patrice Motsepe, with a net value of about $2.9 billion, are some of the wealthiest men in Africa, if not in the world?
Bafana Bafana even failed to qualify for CHAN 2016 finals, beaten by an Angolan team that crashed out in the first round, but we didn’t see the kind of hysterical reaction that we now see here even when our poor league, which pays its players about $500 a month, with some going for months without being paid, actually produced footballers good enough to qualify for Rwanda.
At no point did we hear that Shakes Mashaba’s job was on the line because he had failed to qualify for the CHAN finals while our coach, who still is without a contract, has to face a barrage of missiles, and threats to his job, because we did not do as well as we hoped at the finals.
Given that this tournament is for home-based players only, shouldn’t the strength, or competitiveness of our Premiership, also give us a clue of how far we can go, how far our dreams should stretch?
Our domestic Premiership is currently ranked 18th by CAF, with only a point to our credit, and that means there are 17 countries whose top-flight leagues are deemed to be more powerful than ours and they include Zambia (tied in 15th place on six points) and Mali, who are in eighth place on 26 points, the two countries that were lucky to beat our Warriors by 1-0 margins in Rwanda.
If our representative teams in the CAF inter-club tournaments like the African Champions League, from where the players who play in the CHAN tourneys, have been getting a hiding, of late, with Dynamos suffering a 1-7 aggregate hammering in Tunisia in 2012 and FC Platinum leaking five goals against Al Merreikh of Sudan that same year, doesn’t that send a certain message?
Yes, the Warriors at CHAN 2014 set a benchmark, and the ride was a joyous one for us all, reminding us that we can — now and again — punch above their weight if we play with determination.
But we seem to have forgotten that, just like their counterparts who played in Rwanda who have become subjects for our school of mockery, they also SCORED JUST ONE GOAL in their THREE group matches.
The only difference, of course, is that our boys in South Africa didn’t concede in three of their group matches but, our shortcomings, in terms of scoring goals had long become evident.
THE DAMNING STATISTICS THAT FUEL THE ANTI-PASUWA BRIGADE
Clearly, Pasuwa has his technical shortcomings, when it comes to football at such grand stages, and his record in charge of Dynamos and the Warriors clearly says it all — PLAYED 27 GAMES, WON SEVEN GAMES, DRAWN TEN GAMES, LOST SEVEN GAMES, SCORED 27 GOALS AND CONCEDED TWENTY SIX GOALS.
He is particularly found wanting, whenever either his Dynamos, Warriors or Young Warriors team is playing away from home with his overall away record in the matches, including the THREE 2016 CHAN GAMES, making a sorry reading — PLAYED 15 GAMES, WON ONE (AGAINST MALAWI IN THE 2017 NATIONS CUP QUALIFIERS), DRAWN SEVEN GAMES, LOST SEVEN GAMES, SCORED 10 GOALS AND CONCEDED TWENTY THREE GOALS.
His teams have been hammered 0-6 by Esperance in Tunisia, lost 0-1 to minnows Lesotho Correctional Services in Lesotho, thumped 0-3 by CA Bizertin in Tunisia, lost 0-1 to AS Vita in Kinshasa, lost 0-3 to South Africa in the Under-23 African Championships, lost 0-1 to Zambia and Mali in Rwanda.
On foreign soil, his teams have been held 1-1 by Lesotho in Maseru (CHAN qualifier), Comoros 0-0 (CHAN qualifier), Swaziland 2-2 (Under-23 Championships), 1-1 Cameroon (African Games qualifier), 2-2 Liga Muculmana in Maputo (Champions League) and 1-1 Mochudi Centre Chiefs in Botswana (Champions League).
Pasuwa’s best results, away from home, have been that win over Malawi in the 2017 AFCON qualifier and the 1-1 draw against Cameroon in Yaounde in the African Games qualifier.
And, his fierce critics will argue, he appears to freeze whenever the second half, which football purists say belongs to the coaches, starts — especially in the away games — and they will point to the statistics that Pasuwa’s Dynamos never won the second half, in all their away matches, in the Champions League.
Much of the damage inflicted on the Glamour Boys, away from home, under Pasuwa, came in the second half with CA Bizertin scoring all their three goals in Tunis in the second half, after a goalless first half, in that 0-3 defeat, Esperance scoring half their goals in the second half, in Tunis, in that 0-6 thrashing, Liga Muculmana holding DeMbare to a 1-1 in the second half, in that 2-2 draw in Maputo.
Lesotho Correctional Services scoring their winner in Maseru in the second half (84th minute), Mochudi Centre Chiefs scoring their equaliser in the second half (79th minute), in that 1-1 draw in Gaborone, with AS Vita the only team that failed to score in the second half, in that match in Kinshasa, but their first half goal was enough to see them through.
At national level, Lesotho scored in the second half in Maseru, to cancel Mutuma’s first-half goal, Cameroon scored after the break in that drawn African Games qualifier in Yaounde, South Africa won the second half 1-0, in that 3-0 romp, Zambia scored after the break, at CHAN 2016, and so did Mali, as they both won 1-0, while the Ugandans goal came in that second half.
Only Malawi, in that 2-1 win for the Warriors in Blantyre, Swaziland, in that Under-23 Championship qualifiers and the Comoros, in that goalless draw in the CHAN qualifier, failed to edge Pasuwa’s men in the second half in our battles on foreign soil.
OUR FOOTBALL LEADERS HAVE ALSO LET PASUWA DOWN
But, now and, again — as shown in hostile environments in Malawi and in Cameroon — Pasuwa can be the coach that we want, a latter day and younger version of Sunday Chidzambwa, never one to build teams that pleases the eye with their football, and blows you away with their style, but always one to build teams that are tough to beat.
The problem is that he has been betrayed by his employers, the ZIFA leaders, the people who should have been helping him become the coach of our dreams and it’s a shame that, since he was engaged as Gorowa’s assistant in July 2013, he hasn’t been sent to a refresher course so that he improves his knowledge of the game.
In more than two-and-half years, our football leaders haven’t even realised the importance of sending Pasuwa to Europe or South America so that he improves his knowledge about the ever changing game.
So that he improves his reading of the opponents, especially in the second half on foreign territory, especially his decision-making in terms of who to pull out, and who to keep, when the going gets tough, especially the need for him not to be held hostage by one particular formation where he remains faithful to a game plan of playing a lone forward who should hold up play and bring in others when we attack.
So that he improves his reading of the opposition, making his formation or game plan flexible, so that when Micho throws caution to the wind, and brings in three forwards, as was the case in the dying stages of our game against Uganda, we also change and Rooney, playing wide on the left, understands that his first role now is to support Bruce Kangwa, in his defensive duties, and not to do unnecessary step-overs.
So that he can tell that a younger, and fresher, forward like Brian Muzondiwa, is probably a better player, for the national team, than Zekumbawire.
Surely, Pasuwa needs help, from his employers, so that he can be a better coach, and until they invest in his development, they cannot expect him to perform miracles when he pits his knowledge against the very best coaches that are across the continent.
It’s a national assignment and, if ZIFA cannot afford it, then the Government should take over and invest in this man’s development so that, when he comes back from tournaments like CHAN, we can ask him questions why he failed when we invested so much in him.
Right now he is the best bet we have and we have to help him do it for this nation.
To God Be The Glory!
Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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